He Speaks the Language of Theater (And Many Others, Too)
Lisbon — Theater knows no language barrier for Portuguese actor and director Tiago Rodrigues. At the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where he will make his US debut on October 12, he will perform “By Heart”, a solo show with audience participation in English.
Since it was created in 2013, they have also staged it around Europe in three other languages: French, Portuguese and Spanish. And because the premise of “By Heart” is that Rodrigues, 44, brings 10 audience members on stage to teach Shakespeare sonnets, he also learned poetry in Greek and Russian, for shows in Thessaloniki, Greece; Moscow; and St. Petersburg, Russia.
Through a recent interview at the Lisbon Playhouse he has directed since 2015, at the gorgeous looking Teatro Nacional D. Maria II, he memorized the first four lines of the sonnet – number 30, which begins, “When silent thoughts for a dessert session” – in Russian, with apparent delight.
“I really like to see what happens when you do it in one language, and then you do it in another language,” he said. “I always ask someone in the country to help me. I have visited many embassies in Portugal.”
An embassy has been less responsive lately. In September, the United States Embassy in Lisbon denied Rodrigues a visa to perform at BAM, advising instead that he “travel to a country outside Europe for a visa to enter the US.” Apply,” Rodrigues said in an email on Wednesday. So he’ll head to Canada before traveling to New York, pushing the “By Heart” premiere back a week: the show will now run from October 12 to October 17.
At least American theater-goers will still get a glimpse of the work that has led Rodrigues to be widely admired across Europe’s stages – and his appointment as the next director of the Avignon Festival, the continent’s largest theater events. One is one, which started from 2023. Edition.
Over the past two decades, Rodrigues’s production has spanned many genres, including classic plays such as Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” and Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard”, and less formal and more personal works such as “By Heart”, which became a tribute to him. A loving tribute. Grandmother Candida. An inquisitive reader, he tried to learn a favorite book in its entirety when he found himself blind at the end of his life.
“The moment I say her name on stage, it’s a way to maintain her presence, somehow, and to share this invisible connection that literature creates,” Rodrigues said.
Rodrigues’ productions have a pan-European, multilingual approach and a loose, collaborative directing style. His wife, Magda Bizarro, has been a frequent collaborator since the beginning of his career, and will oversee international programming at Avignon.
Artists who have worked with Rodrigues have described him as a gentle flaw. Ocien Caratti, who played Varya in “The Cherry Orchard” in Avignon in July, said that he “completely trusts the actors – he believes we have our vision for the drama and the role as well.” , and he welcomes it.” (In an interview in Lisbon, Bizarro explained with a laugh that this does not mean that Rodrigues has no end points in mind: “Tiago listens to everyone, but if he has an idea about a lesson, He keeps it till the end.”)
Rodrigues’ approach stems from political principles, he said. A child of the young Portuguese democracy, he was born in Lisbon in 1974, three years after the “Carnation Revolution” that ended the country’s military dictatorship. His father was an anti-fascist activist who spent many years in exile in France in the late 1960s, and later worked as a journalist.
“Democracy is a big deal for me. I try to act the way I try to live,” Rodriguez said. “I never want to work with anyone and when we disagree, play the authority card because it’s my job. If I ever do, I hope I have the courage to say sorry.”
“Knowing him has been one of the privileges of my theater life,” Jean-Marie Horde, director of the Théâtre de la Bastille in Paris, where Rodrigues has presented many of his works, said in a phone interview. “His talent is manifold, and he is an extremely honest person.”
Rodrigues himself took an unusual path on stage. When he applied to Lisbon Theater and Film School as a teenager, he was rejected—”I was the first of the non-admitted, best refused,” he recalled—yet eventually, no one. After he was out, he came in. “I did a year, and by the end, he was sorry he called me,” he said. “They said I just wasn’t talented. I’m not sure they were wrong. I’ve probably grown a lot better at proving them wrong.”
The school advised him to concentrate his talent elsewhere. Instead, Rodrigues enrolled in every workshop he met after the school year, including that of the Belgian company tg STAN. By the end of the summer, tg STAN, a director-less collective that Rodrigues described as “my theater school”, offered her a role in an upcoming production.
“It was really love at first sight with him,” he said, adding that when he turned to directing, he was deeply influenced by the collective philosophy. “The idea of creation is shared by all collectively, and is based on the freedom of the actor on stage.”
To continue working with Tg STAN, Rodrigues pretended he could speak French to land a role in “Les Antigones”, a production that premiered in 2001 in Toulouse, France. “I said in English that my French was great, and they never doubted me,” he said.
His now quintessential French will no doubt improve when he moves to Avignon in southern France full time this winter. In Lisbon, Rodrigues leaves behind a rejuvenated Teatro Nacional – Portugal’s “symbolic temple of theatre,” as he calls it.
“When I came to 2015, it was considered a little old-fashioned,” Rodrigues said. “Sometimes this did not allow the great work being done here to be regarded as great work.”
Under his leadership, the theater introduced outreach programs aimed at residents of central Lisbon who had never been to the Teatro Nacional. The resident ensemble, due to funding cuts at the time for only a handful of actors, was supplemented by younger actors on fixed contracts.
Rodrigues also honored the theater’s long-serving staff members, bringing new blood. “Sopro,” a work he created in 2017, draws on nearly four decades of backstage anecdotes from the theater’s prompter, Christina Vidal. She narrates her stories to the actors on stage, who convey them to the audience.
“He took a sleeping beauty, and woke her up,” said the Horde of Rodrigues’ tenure in Lisbon.
The Avignon Festival – in another country and language – will present new challenges, but Rodrigues said he would apply the same convictions there. He added that it could also mean “to do less” than the current, gigantic event.
The sheer scale of the job may mean that he will have to do even less: Avignon will most likely keep Rodrigues too busy for several stage performances of his own. “As I started directing and writing more and more, I understood that acting was the hardest thing for me,” Rodrigues said. “I’m tired of it.”
Yet eight years after “By Heart” premiered, he said he was not tired of sharing Shakespeare’s sonnets around the world. “Every performance, 10 new people come on stage,” Rodrigues said. “And it’s a whole new adventure.”
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